By our compassion we will be judged.

Homily 534 – 36 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 19, 2023
Epistle:  (140) – 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2
Gospel:  (106) – Matthew 25:31-46

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

As we do every year, we arrive on the doorstep to Great Lent, and experience some emotion as we begin the journey to Pascha.

For some, the emotion is dread, or fear, or something negative.  For others, that emotion is anticipation, determination, or something positive.

We know that we are on the edge of something significant.  If we are trusting in ourselves, we perhaps experience fear or negative, because we know that it is a cliff we’re jumping off and we have no way to support ourselves.

But – if we are trusting in Christ, we experience the thrill and anticipation that we are jumping not into an abyss, but into His arms, and the full knowledge and trust that He will make us fly.

There is an interesting aspect of emotions – we are not slaves to them.  We can decide what our emotion should be.  It’s a bit of a learned skill.  But it is possible to control one’s emotions.

Controlling one’s emotions is an essential skill when following Christ.  As we learn to deny ourselves, to deny our passions, we also have the opportunity to deny our emotions.

Many of you have heard the story of the Chinese farmer.  He had a mare that broke through the fence and ran away. When his neighbors learned of it, they came to the farmer and said, “What bad luck this is. You don’t have a horse during planting season.” The farmer listened and then replied, “Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?”

A few days later, the mare returned with two stallions. When the neighbors learned of it, they visited the farmer. “You are now a rich man. What good fortune this is,” they said. The farmer listened and again replied, “Good fortune, bad fortune. Who knows?”

Later that day, the farmer’s only son was thrown from one of the stallions and broke his leg. When the neighbors heard about it, they came to the farmer. “It is planting season and now there is no one to help you,” they said. “This is truly bad luck.” The farmer listened, and once more he said, “Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?”

The very next day, the emperor’s army rode into the town and conscripted the eldest son in every family. Only the farmer’s son with his broken leg remained behind. Soon the neighbors arrived. Tearfully, they said, “Yours is the only son who was not taken from his family and sent to war. What good fortune this is…”

We need to learn from the farmer – our emotional reactions to events are not to be trusted.  We have to learn to see them in the larger picture – to be attuned to the finality of things – which in our case is nearly impossible for us to see.

We never know how things will turn out.  We can see in hindsight – but not ahead.

In my case, as I look back, I see that God has protected me, and blessed me, even when I thought the worst was being forced on me.

For example, I have, in my past, lost jobs.  At the time I was devastated.  Then, after a while, the company that I was formerly with became embroiled in a scandal, or went bankrupt, or was sold.

So, in those cases, the times I lost my jobs in the long run were for my protection, not my harm.  Plus, as an added benefit, God provided the means for me to continue to live – sometimes through family, sometimes through part-time or temporary jobs.

Looking back, God never abandoned me.  So why should I expect God to abandon me now?  That would be so out of character for Him.

This is consistent with the experience of the Children of Israel as well.  The Psalms and histories documented in the Old Testament scriptures were full of remembering of God’s past actions.  His mercy, his compassion.

It is that compassion we find in the description of the last judgement.  We aren’t given to believe that we are judged based on our orthodoxy or our adhering to morality.

But rather, we are judged based on God’s compassion to us, and our compassion to others.

It is really comforting to know how we will be judged.  The interesting thing to me is that the ones condemned somehow got the idea that they only needed to be compassionate to Jesus Himself – they didn’t see Jesus, so there was no need to offer food, clothing, shelter, companionship, relationship – none of those things.

Because they didn’t see Jesus.

But likewise, the ones who offered compassion – food, clothing, shelter, companionship, relationship – to those less fortunate were deemed worthy and granted to be with Christ in the resurrection Kingdom.  And they didn’t see Jesus either.

The difference between the two is one of compassion.  God was and is and will be compassionate to us.  Therefore, we must be compassionate to one another.

Whether we realize it or not, we are encountering Christ in every person we meet.  Regardless of their race, gender, nationality, moral adherence to our faith or moral code, whatever criteria we can come up with.  Nothing separates them from Christ.

This is why attempts to dehumanize people is so dangerous, and such a grave sin, worse in my view than murder or abortion or anything that ends life.  Dehuminizing anyone is worse.  Every human being is for us, Christ.  Every human being.  No exceptions.

When contemplating an unknown future, we need to go back and rely on our experience of God in the past.  Maybe that is why we become somewhat wiser with age.  We learn not to impulsively react.

Moving forward, we can look at Great Lent with anticipation and joy, perhaps even wonder, at how God will teach us, bless us, be compassionate to us, during this time.  And we do so with the full knowledge that at the end of the journey lies two events:

The first is death – specifically the death of our ego.

The second is resurrection.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.